The Dial-Up Internet of Things.

A look at patterns and how the 90’s is happening all over again.

Adrian Blackwood
9 min readJun 19, 2018

The third part in a six-part series exploring the future of the internet in combinations: the art & science of mixing AI, IoT, Blockchains, and Data. Follow the series on Medium:

Technology is Predictable: by looking at patterns from the past, we can better understand the present and future. Let’s have a look a the 90’s and now.

Lets Look at Patterns

Nothing is new in the world of patterns. Just like any good ML startup these days, it all starts with pattern recognition.

So it began

There was a lonely computer, stuck in a university. He needed friends to talk to. Hola! The internet is born. So began a love affair, humans and technology, and it’s happening again.

It’s like the 90’s movie “You’ve Got Mail”, but now the house itself has mail plus your watch, bag, keys, bike, car, office, and even your shampoo bottle… but let’s start at the beginning of this love story.

A {World} On-Line

Around the globe, the 90’s typically home had a family computer — in the living room or office, private enough to concentrate, public enough to keep your morality in tact.

No clear ‘ISP’ for the internet of Things has yet emerged.

Many users doing many tasks through a single portal, on a shared line to an internet of islands. Sounds familiar? It is nearly identical to the network diagram of today’s typical ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) deployments.

A Look at Differences and Similarities

What if our current machines interfaced like they did the in the 80’s & 90’s? Could we go back to that level of computer assistance, and still function as a digital society?

The 90’s internet was hardware not software driven. Just like today’s IOT.

The earliest modems weren’t cheap. A cool and back then futuristic 56Kbps modem would set you back up to £399 (500CDN, 15.2IDR, 12smeckles) in the early 90’s. They were expensive, slow, unreliable, and simply shitty. Plus their features sucked. How will look back onto today’s IoT technology — i can predict future-us will have simular feeling about our current options.

Notice the difference? The 90’s and 20’s internet gateways for internet connections in physical places are boxes we plug in.

The 90’s internet looks like a Duran Duran cassette tape in front seat of Pontiac firebird — looking outdated and irrelevant. Much like current IoT gateway tech to tomorrow’s physical internet users.

‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) interaction requires a physical product component. From stickers to nodes to micro-computers, digital-physical interaction is first started at an IoT appliance, similar to that of the 90’s PC/Mac — both requiring access to the internet through a gateway or a modem — both limiting software versions and functions by the processor level of Hardware.

In comparison: how many awesome IoT First Apps there are in ANY app store? Not apps that use IoT, but apps build for users of IoT. Not many. The hardware is still expensive, slow and while it’s getting better, it’s still typically dogged by standardization and performance-to-cost issues.

By adding intelligence to the internet and the hardware around us — called the internet of things — we are beginning to create a whole new experience medium: the physical internet.

Unlike the internet we knew in the 90's, this new experience bridges the gap between the digital and the physical world.

The internet of islands strikes back

So in the 90’s, we as consumers of the (then new) internet were going to single sites which rarely, if ever talked to one another — we are then part of the internet of islands, a disconnected but group set of technologies and experiences, much like todays physical-digital internet, and the Internet of things that surf it.

90s websites — single sign with no social element— an internet of island — much like todays IOT

As we’ve progressed and the communication between these ‘islands’ has become possible, and then desirable, we started to enjoy a more cohesive internet experience — one that is ready for mass adoption. When I sit back and look to the patterns within IOT and AI, I see the same trajectory.

Can you easily login to your IOT environment? Can you share this access easily with friends, visitors, family or work colleagues? Does your AI agent know you well enough, does it monitor risks and assess opportunities? Does your AI Agent play well with other AI agents and thus get the best results for you?

I think for most of us the answer to all the question above is ‘no’. However, for our future selfs the answer will be a ‘yes’.

The 90’s dial-up internet phone line is today’s ISP dial-up Internet-of-things

So, streaming music wasn’t viable in 1996 because your domestic internet sucked — it simply could not handle the data volume. If, like me, you downloaded all your music off your university T1 line (thanks Napster), then you’ll remember the joys of bringing home Mb’s and Mb’s of new music. Many a productive night fuelled by ‘community collected’ music.

90’s and 10’s connecting services: the essential function should be the same: share.

The funny thing is, that this is exactly what we’re doing today as well. In the world of Data Science we need DATA to build the Science (I know, sounds obvious) but what it actually means is the transport of minutia, details that have to be captured, stored locally and then transported. In IoT Research a typical well-built living lab (a physical internet test environment), for example covering a single floor of office space will gather daily up to GB’s of interaction, event, ambient, prediction and prescription data. This data is equivalent to music of the 90’s internet experience, but for today’s ML, GL, AI + productivity applications.

IoT data is the fuel to intelligence engines

Low bandwidth IoT architecture and the habit to ‘throw away’ granular data, current to most IoT deployments, reduces both trends analysis and higher function Data Value applications.

In fact, there is a symphony of data happening all around you right now. No matter where you are, this data is falling on deaf ears unless it’s collected and ‘brought home’ to create the base of the IoT Data Value. Lets visualize this effectively with a DIKW pyramid:

The classic Data to Wisdom Value Creation models is missing the TOP layer which is the ambient. The value created between interactions generates the highest level data value in IOT networks.

The 90’s were when collaborative online gaming really took off

Yeah DOOM. Got a space gun, cool, lets shoot aliens. Basically, the best part of my afternoon before my mom got home. “I called but couldn’t get through”, homework mom, homework. While the 90’s internet was defined by a single connectivity line — the phone — the modern day internet of things has been defined by the need to connect through your mobile phone. Another typical trend that emerges when we compare 90’s tech to current IoT tech: limitations.

“I am doing homework, mom” i.e. actually training for a future in IOT architecture

As an agent of productivity, 90’s internet allowed me to use a portion of my time in adversarial gaming to hone my skills and exchange KNOWLEDGE through experiences with other agents within my network. In IoT terms and on the other hand what if IoT systems could do the same?

Breaking out of the IoT Internet of Islands would enable theses systems to progress and learn, ultimately developing their cortex of learning algorithms (AI learning engines) to better develop neuro link pathways. Unique in construct and matured in their values — especially if done within a controlled environment with rules (similar to a game engine).

The 90’s internet had its own theme tune, which goes something like ‘beep beep beep bepitty booooop ba dung ba baaaaa pssssssst’

Passwords suck

Well, the 90’s and IOT have that in common as well. What about privacy and security? How did we deal with these in the 90’s? Not very well. Password hint: Password.

A complete rethink of the reality of physical digital protection, security and privacy is needed — and it should be constructed within the very DNA of IOT systems to avoid the decades long security issues of the first wave of internet.

What if wecould Edit the Dial-Up Internet of things? What would we change?

Here are some thoughts for the near future

Internet of awareness

There is no need to focus on the underlying internet applications for IOT. The masses will solve those challenges. Instead, we need to be focusing on adapting the internet to the human experience: the ‘internet of me’ through the relevant moments and places of my day, and internet of my things in my world. Personal significance will rule the business models for IOT and thus, create a spawn of technologies and companies focused on what made 90’s internet so great: experiences. Let’s work to create a better, more personal IOT from the very start.

The last generation to be born out of the internet

The 90’s kids are the last human generation to be born outside of the internet.

Let that sink in for a moment. They are the last generation to be born in an analog world, and the first and only, to watch it become digitized. Revealing information that was always there but is only now visible, adding a a layer after layer — a never ceasing dance of digital evolution that will never end. Ever.

The path to the ‘land of the real’

The Matrix was future in the 90’s: here now is a world where we can access information in the world around us.

Information is all around us. It ‘s in the furniture we sit on, in the cup of morning coffee we hold, and even in the very air we breathe.

Yet, you can not truly see this matrix of data until you realize this one key point: The data is already there, the 90’s internet started what we now continue with IoT, the internet enables us to collect data and understand its relationship to us, the main difference is that the physical internet will now wrap around you.

What will be the choice in the 20's

The rise of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is really the computers we know, the one’s on our desks and in our pockets that are constantly extending their reach to the world around us. The experiences we have learned to expect from traditional or ’First and Second Wave of Computers Technologies, will extend to this new world as well — to a world where the physical and digital domains and experiences really do combine and merge into a whole new set of experiences.

What seems to be missing from most of the conversations around IoT, is the idea that this platform is somehow different from earlier computer platform experiences. Most notably, we seem to think that somehow IoT will not represent us through profiles and preferences. Just like the 90’s internet did, so will the IoT. Everything is data and everything will be used.

The internet comes in waves

We are living in an era of mini-revolutions. Not in an era of akin to ‘industrial revolution’ which was one major occurrence, but in fact, are experiencing rapid bursts of innovation that each represent a distinct and separate wave of innovation. The next in the ten part series will cover the (new) internet waves model, which is a way to explain the rising tide of current technology trends and how put the buzz words into perspective. A way to understand why VR is not at the stage of mass-adoption yet, and that combinations of IOT, Blockchain, AI and Big Data are where it’s currently at — both commercially and from the consumer’s perspective.

The internet has, and will likely remain a contest of selection, a modern version of natural selection — natural selection gone digital. A human who can display emotion is typically rewarded as a more effective communicator, a computer with emotional interface is the same. Which is why a human or machine brain without these attributes is not reaching its full potential.

When it comes to the Internet Of Things, we are now living in an era comparable to the dial-up internet, and just like this first wave of internet we can expect the near future to be filled with new services and technologies we could not imagine before, but could not live without.



Adrian Blackwood

Adrian explores the future of reality through four exciting areas: Applied Ai, Spatial Reality, health-tech, and Ambient Intelligence.